13 Nov 2018

Stan Lee's legendary sense of responsibility

1:24 pm on 13 November 2018

By Troy Rawhiti-Forbes*

Opinion - Stan Lee understood people. He truly understood his fellow people. He understood their struggles, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and their frailities.

Stan Lee attends the premiere of Marvel's "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" at the Dolby Theatre on April 13, 2015 in Hollywood, California.  AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo by ROBYN BECK / AFP)

Photo: AFP

As a serving member of the United States military during World War II, he saw the worst in us. As a voice in the great American cultural maelstrom of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, he saw the potential in us. Throughout all of it, he saw the good and the mighty in all of us.

Stan Lee wasn't a politician. He wrote comic books. But never doubt his leadership. He knew he had skills and experience, perspective and compassion. They unleashed in him a superpower that was uncanny, amazing, fantastic. Stan Lee had the x-factor.

This power also activated his legendary sense of responsibility.

Even people who have never encountered Peter Parker, an ordinary kid from Queens with an amazing secret, know his principal belief: "With great power comes great responsibility."

It resonates with all of us, because it is our belief too. Stan Lee, and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, who also passed away this year, simply held the mirror up to us and showed us what we knew to be true.

No caption

Photo: Marvel Comics

Sure, Peter Parker had a significant physical advantage, but it wasn't the spider's influence that made him our hero. It was his heart, his innocence, and his sense of justice.

Stan Lee wasn't ever going to expect any of us to climb a wall and vanquish a superhuman enemy after picking up one of his comic books, but he had that simple belief that we could see the choices a kid like Spider-Man would make and, like him, act on them to the best of our own natural abilities.

And that's just one character. Walk into a comic book store (there are some excellent ones in New Zealand, go make friends with them) or binge through the Marvel Cinematic Universe and you'll come away not only entertained but empowered.

Through that mirror, we see ourselves and also people whose experiences are not our own. That we are entertained as well is a beautiful bonus.

That was Stan Lee's greatest superpower. He could see into our hearts and spin the webs of his stories with immense empathy and crafty, quirky comedy. He knew when to throw on the light, and when to plunge us into darkness. He knew, intuitively, how to help his audience understand the stakes.

Sometimes it was simplistic, as it was when the X-Men suited up for mutantkind when we knew there was an LGBTQI parallel just beneath the surface, but it was always understood.

As news broke of Stan Lee's death, my mind went into comparison mode. He wasn't the only person with the gift, but he was easily the most prolific creator of heroes, villains, and universes. The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman claimed Stan Lee was second only to Walt Disney himself as a shaper of Disney's legacy. Marvel has lived with Mickey for a decade.

I would agree, but outside the Magic Kingdom Stan Lee's legacy will be wider. It will be broader. It will live longer. His work was good and pure, even innocent at times, but it reminded us always that we must stand and fight to keep things that way.

As a communicator of the human condition through comic books, then the screen, Stan Lee's contribution to storytelling is bettered by no one in this modern era - and maybe by nobody in history besides Shakespeare.

I never knew Stan Lee. But we have the most wonderful proof that he knew all of us.

Go well, true believer.

*Troy Rawhiti-Forbes is a social and digital marketer, copywriter, commentator, and award-winning journalist who has covered a range of stories including earthquakes, social issues, entertainment, and sport.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs